Thursday, May 31, 2007

Shopping in Tuckahoe

Jane Flanders (1988)

One could spend years in this parking lot
waiting for a daughter to find just the right
pair of jeans. From time to time I slip the meter
its nickel fix. Across the street in Epstein's
basement, shoppers pick their way through bins
of clothes made tempting by the words, "marked down."
We have replaced making things with looking for them.

My mood is such I almost miss what's happening next door,
where a weedy lot is conducting its own
January clearance with giveaways galore—
millions of seeds, husks, vines, bare sepals
glinting like cruisewear in the cold sun.
"Come in," says the wind. "We love your pale hair
and skin, the fine lines in your brow."

The shades of choice are bone and dust, everything
starched, rustling like taffeta, brushing against me
with offers of free samples—thorns, burrs, fluff,
twigs stripped of fussy flowers.
Greedy as any bargain hunter, I gather them in,
till my arms are filled with the residue of plenty.

By the time my daughter reappears, trailing her scarves
of pink and green, she will be old enough
to drive home alone. I have left the keys for her.
She'll never spot me standing here like a winter bouquet
with my straw shield, my helmet of seeds and sparrows.

avatar hair color

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Say Not the Struggle

Arthur Hugh Clough (1819-1861)

Say not the struggle naught availeth,
     The labor and the wounds are vain,
The enemy faints not, nor faileth,
     And as things have been they remain.

If hopes were dupes, fears may be liars;
     It may be, in yon smoke conceal'd.
Your comrades chase e'en now the fliers,
     And, but for you, possess the field.

For while the tired waves, vainly breaking,
     Seem here no painful inch to gain,
Far back, through creeks and inlets making,
     Comes silent, flooing in, the main.

And not by eastern windows only,
     When daylight comes, comes in the light;
In front the sun climbs slow, how slowly!
     But westward, look, the land is bright!

south park character

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Ballad of Orange and Grape

Muriel Rukeyser (1973)

After you finish your work
after you do your day
after you've read your reading
after you've written your say —
you go down the street to the hot dog stand,
one block down and across the way.
On a blistering afternoon in East Harlem in the twentieth century.

Most of the windows are boarded up,
the rats run out of a sack —
sticking out of the crummy garage
one shiny long Cadillac;
at the glass door of the drug-addiction center,
a man who'd like to break your back.
But here's a brown woman with a little girl dressed in rose and pink, too.

Frankfurters, frankfurters sizzle on the steel
where the hot-dog-man leans —
nothing else on the counter
but the usual two machines,
the grape one, empty, and the orange one, empty,
I face him in between.
A black boy comes along, looks at the hot dogs, goes on walking.

I watch the man as he stands and pours
in the familiar shape
bright purple in the one marked ORANGE
orange in the one marked GRAPE,
the grape drink in the machine marked ORANGE
and orange drink in the GRAPE.
Just the one word large and clear, unmistakable, on each machine.

I ask him: How can we go on reading
and make sense out of what we read? —
How can they write and believe what they're writing,
the young ones across the street,
while you go on pouring grape into ORANGE
and orange into the one marked GRAPE —?
(How are we going to believe what we read and what we write and we hear and we say and we do?)

He looks at the two machines and he smiles
and he shrugs and smiles and pours again.
It could be violence and nonviolence
it could be white and black      women and men
it could be war and peace or any
binary system, love and hate, enemy, friend.
Yes and no, be and not-be, what we do and what we don't do.

On a corner in East Harlem
garbage, reading, a deep smile, rape,
forgetfulness, a hot street of murder,
misery, withered hope,
a man keeps pouring grape into ORANGE
and orange into the one marked GRAPE,
pouring orange into GRAPE and grape into ORANGE forever.

Monday, May 28, 2007

The Dark Hills

Edward Arlington Robinson (1869-1935)

Dark hills at evening in the west,
Where sunset hovers like a sound
Of golden horns that sang to rest
Old bones of warriors under ground,
Far now from all the bannered ways
Where flash the legions of the sun,
You fade—as if the last of days
Were fading, and all wars were done.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Hazel Tells Laverne

Katharyn Machan Aal (b. 1952)

last night
im cleanin out my
howard johnsons ladies room
when all of a sudden
up pops this frog
musta come from the sewer
swimmin aroun an tryin ta
climb up the sida the bowl
so i goes ta flushm down
but sohelpmegod he starts talkin
bout a golden ball
an how i can be a princess
me a princess
well my mouth drops
all the way to the floor
an he says
kiss me just kiss me
once on the nose
well i screams
ya little green pervert
an i hitsm with my mop
an has ta flush
the toilet down three times
a princess

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Wild Oats

Philip Larkin (1962)

About twenty years ago
Two girls came in where I worked—
A bosomy English rose
And her friend in specs I could talk to.
Faces in those days sparked
The whole shooting-match off, and I doubt
If ever one had like hers:
But it was the friend I took out,

And in seven years after that
Wrote over four hundred letters,
Gave a ten-guinea ring
I got back in the end, and met
At numerous cathedral cities
Unknown to the clergy. I believe
I met beautiful twice. She was trying
Both times (so I thought) not to laugh.

Parting, after about five
Rehearsals, was an agreement
That I was too selfish, withdrawn,
And easily bored to love.
Well, useful to get that learnt.
In my wallet are still two snaps
Of bosomy rose with fur gloves on.
Unlucky charms, perhaps.

avatar hair color

Friday, May 25, 2007

Cool Mule

Dale A. Schreiber (b. 1924)

There was a man who drove his mule
A little faster to get cool.

As breezes played across his face,
He whipped her to a quicker pace.

Because the day was extra hot,
He broke the beast into a trot.

He laid it on her with her switch,
And she dropped dead, there in a ditch.

I asked, "How come your mule is dead?"
"I think she froze to death," he said.

the frozen dead

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Looking for You, Barbara

Ted Kooser (b. 1939)

I have been out looking for you,
Barbara, and as I drove around,
the steering wheel turned through my hands
like a clock. The moon
rolled over the rooftops and was gone.

I was dead tired; in my arms
they were rolling the tires inside;
in my legs they were locking the pumps.
Yet what was in me for you
flapped as red in my veins
as banners strung over a car lot.

Then I came home and got drunk.
Where are you? 2 A.M.
is full of slim manikins
waving their furs from black windows.

car lot banners

My bed goes once more around the block,
and my heart keeps on honking its horn.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

A Rabbit as King of the Ghosts

Wallace Stevens

The difficulty to think at the end of day,
When the shapeless shadow covers the sun
And nothing is left except light on your fur—

There was the cat slopping its milk all day,
Fat cat, red tongue, green mind, white milk
And August the most peaceful month.

To be, in the grass, in the peacefullest time,
Without that monument of cat,
The cat forgotten in the moon;

And to feel that the light is a rabbit-light,
In which everything is meant to you
And nothing need be explained;

Then there is nothing to think of. It come itself;
And east rushes west and west rushes down,
No matter. The grass is full

And full of yourself. The trees around are for you,
The whole of the wideness of night is for you,
A self that touches all edges,

You become a self that fills the four corners of the night.
The red cat hides away in the fur-light
And there you are humped high, humped up,

You are humped higher and higher, black as stone—
You sit with your head like a carving in space
And the little green cat is a bug in the grass.

word pebbles

2008: The Job by Kay Ryan

Tuesday, May 22, 2007


Glenn Brooke (1984)

A fisherman, Howard goes down to the Ohio River
every day; there is nothing else.
He cuts a fresh willow rod, and settles himself
by the same muddy pool below the B&O tracks,
on his usual knob of damp slate.

Howard never baits his hook. He waits.
He looks at the dimple where his twill line
disappears into the brown water,
hardly looking up or down or away.
"Tis enough," he says.

My mother says Howard is crazy;
our preacher, who has prayed earnestly,
says Howard is the greatest fisherman in the world.
We accept Howard with the patience of farmers,
with the faith of great depths in rivers.

Howard has never caught a fish.
There, in his cord coat and patch cap,
he endures season upon season, the comings and goings
of barges and children, and the backwater fogs
drifting in and out, like doubts, like legends.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Love Is Not All: It Is Not Meat Nor Drink

Edna St. Vincent Millay (1926)

Love is not all: it is not meat nor drink
Nor slumber nor a roof against the rain;
Nor yet a floating spar to men that sink
And rise and sink and rise and sink again;
Love can not fill the thickened lung with breath,
Nor clean the blood, nor set the fractured bone;
Yet many a man is making friends with death
Even as I speak, for lack of love alone.
It well may be that in a difficult hour,
Pinned down by pain and moaning for release,
Or nagged by want past resolution's power,
I might be driven to sell your love for peace,
Or trade the memory of this night for food.
It well may be. I do not think I would.


Sunday, May 20, 2007

I Shall Forget You Presently, My Dear

Edna St. Vincent Millay (1934)

I shall forget you presently, my dear,
So make the most of this, your little day,
Your little month, your little half a year,
Ere I forget, or die, or move away,
And we are done forever; by and by
I shall forget you, as I said, but now,
If you entreat me with your loveliest lie
I will protest you with my favorite vow.
I would indeed that love were longer-lived,
And vows were not so brittle as they are,
But so it is, and nature has contrived
To struggle on without a break thus far,—
Whether or not we find what we are seeking
Is idle, biologically speaking.


Saturday, May 19, 2007

The Oven Bird

Robert Frost (1916)

There is a singer everyone has heard,
Loud, a mid-summer and mid-wood bird,
Who makes the solid tree trunks sound again.
He says that leaves are old and that for flowers
Mid-summer is to spring as one to ten.
He says the early petal-fall is past,
When pear and cherry bloom went down in showers
On sunny days a moment overcast;
And comes that other fall we name the fall.
He says the highway dust is over all.
The bird would cease and be as other birds
But that he knows in singing not to sing.
The question that he frames in all but words
Is what to make of a diminished thing.


Friday, May 18, 2007

The Prisoner

Charles Simic

He is thinking of us.
These leaves, their lazy rustle
That made us sleepy after lunch
So we had to lie down.

He considers my hand on her breast,
Her closed eyelids, her moist lips
Against my forehead, and the shadows of trees
Hovering on the ceiling.

It's been so long. He has trouble
Deciding what else is there.
And all along the suspicion
That we do not exist.

prisoner icons

Thursday, May 17, 2007


Robert Francis

His art is eccentricity, his aim
How not to hit the mark he seems to aim at,

His passion how to avoid the obvious,
His technique how to vary the avoidance.

The others throw to be comprehended. He
Throws to be a moment misunderstood.

Yet not too much. Not errant, arrant, wild,
But every seeming aberration willed.

Not to, yet still, still to communicate
Making the batter understand too late.

roger clemens

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

The Double Play

Robert Wallace (b. 1932)

In his sea-lit
distance, the pitcher winding
like a clock about to chime comes down with

the ball, hit
sharply, under the artificial
bank of lights, bounds like a vanishing string

over the green
to the shortstop magically
scoops to his right whirling above his invisible

in the dust redirects
its flight to the running poised second baseman

leaping, above the slide, to throw
from mid-air, across the colored tightened interval,

to the leaning-
out first baseman ends the dance
drawing it disappearing into his long brown glove

stretches. What
is too swift for deception
is final, lost, among the loosened figures

jogging off the field
(the pitcher walks), casual
in the space where the poem has happened.

ozzie smith

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Lingering In Happiness

Mary Oliver (2005)

After rain after many days without rain,
it stays cool, private and cleansed, under the trees,
and the dampness there, married now to gravity,
falls branch to branch, leaf to leaf, down to the ground

where it will disappear—but not, of course, vanish
except to our eyes. The roots of the oaks will have their share,
and the white threads of grasses, and the cushion of moss;
a few drops, round as pearls, will enter the mole's tunnel;

and soon so many small stones, buried for a thousand years,
will feel themselves being touched.

soap suds

Monday, May 14, 2007

Musée des Beaux Arts

W.H. Auden (1907-1973)

About suffering they were never wrong,
The Old Masters: how well they understood
Its human position; how it takes place
While someone else is eating or opening a window
    or just walking dully along;
How, when the aged are reverently, passionately waiting
For the miraculous birth, there always must be
Children who did not specially want it to happen, skating
On a pond at the edge of the wood:
They never forget
That even the dreadful martyrdom must run its course
Anyhow in a corner, some untidy spot
Where the dogs go on with their doggy life and the torturer's horse
Scratches its innocent behind on a tree.

In Brueghel's Icarus, for instance: how everything turns away
Quite leisurely from the disaster; the ploughman may
Have heard the splash, the forsaken cry,
But for him it was not an important failure; the sun shone
As it had to on the white legs disappearing into the green
Water; and the expensive delicate ship that must have seen
Something amazing, a boy falling out of the sky,
Had somewhere to get to and sailed calmly on.

Pieter Bruegel. Landscape with the Fall of Icarus. c. 1558. Oil on canvas, mounted on wood. 73.5 x 112 cm. Musées royaux des Beaux-Arts de Belgique, Brussels. (click image to enlarge)

Sunday, May 13, 2007

What Else Is There?

Tom Disch (1998)

So much remains we haven't seen
Painted: the snow, now, at 5:19—
      A kind of lavendar, while the sky
      Still retains its twilight dye,
The blue that refuses to be green.

And then there's beef, with its obscene
Relevance to who we are and what we mean.
      Bones, offal. No knowing why
          So much remains

Unnoticed, unremarked, behind a screen
Of seemliness. We serve a machine
That serves our purposes: the eye.
      It sees the day, and thinks it cannot lie.
          So much remains.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

"You Can't Write a Poem About McDonald's"

Ronald Wallace (b. 1945)

Noon. Hunger the only thing
singing in my belly.
I walk through the blossoming cherry trees
on the library mall,
past the young couples coupling,
by the crazy fanatic
screaming doom and salvation
at a sensation-hungry crowd,
to the Lake Street McDonald's.
It is crowded, the lines long and sluggish.
I wait in the greasy air.
All around me people are eating—
the sizzle of conversation,
the salty odor of sweat,
the warm flesh pressing out of
hip huggers and halter tops.
When I finally reach the cash register,
the counter girl is crisp as a pickle,
her fingers thin as french fries,
her face brown as a bun.
Suddenly I understand cannibalism.
As I reach for her,
she breaks into pieces
wrapped neat and packaged for take-out.
I'm thinking, how amazing it is
to live in this country, how easy
it is to be filled.
We leave together, her warm aroma
close at my side.
I walk back through the cherry trees
blossoming up into pies,
the young couples frying in
the hot, oily sun,
the crowd eating up the fanatic,
singing, my ear, eye, and tongue
fat with the wonder
of this hungry world.

Friday, May 11, 2007

from Letter to the Front

Muriel Rukeyser (1944)


To be a Jew in the twentieth century
Is to be offered a gift. If you refuse,
Wishing to be invisible, you choose
Death of the spirit, the stone insanity.
Accepting, take full life. Full agonies:
Your evening deep in labyrinthine blood
Of those who resist, fail, and resist; and God
Reduced to a hostage among hostages.

The gift is torment. Not alone the still
Torture, isolation; or torture of the flesh.
That may come also. But the accepting wish,
The whole and fertile spirit as guarantee
For every human freedom, suffering to be free,
Daring to live for the impossible.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

The Secret

Denise Levertov (1964)

Two girls discover
the secret of life
in a sudden line of

I who don't know the
secret wrote
the line. They
told me

(through a third person)
they had found it
but not what it was
not even

what line it was. No doubt
by now, more than a week
later, they have forgotten
the secret,

the line, the name of
the poem. I love them
for finding what
I can't find,

and for loving me
for the line I wrote,
and for forgetting it
so that

a thousand times, till death
finds them, they may
discover it again, in other

in other
happenings. And for
wanting to know it,

assuming there is
such a secret, yes,
for that
most of all.

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

from The Dream Songs (14)

John Berryman (1964)

Life, my friends, is boring. We must not say so.
After all, the sky flashes, the great sea yearns,
we ourselves flash and yearn,
and moreover my mother told me as a boy
(repeatingly) "Ever to confess you're bored
means you have no

Inner Resources." I conclude now I have no
inner resources, because I am heavy bored.
Peoples bore me,
literature bores me, especially great literature,
Henry bores me, with his plights & gripes
as bad as achilles,

who loves people and valiant art, which bores me.
And the tranquil hills, & gin, look like a drag
and somehow a dog
has taken itself & its tail considerably away
into mountains or sea or sky, leaving
behind: me, wag.

Tuesday, May 8, 2007


Jan M. W. Rose

Afraid for both of them,
her movements, uncertain,
she lightfoots it between

twelve intersections of thread
and an odd collector's item:
a strange dark bug she keeps

knotted in a silk pouch
tight as a cherry pit.
Gnats hover in the moist air

langorous with conversation.
"She's strange" they murmur,
riding tiny currents of air.

About her are slung
a dozen males,
bulging in their white hammocks,

shimmering in porch light.
Even as she wanders,
legs tapping the wires

like piano strings,
they bob up and down,
suspended hard in sleep.

But her long worn Utility
chooses none; the captive males
curl tighter in their nets;

and dropping her blue-white line,
for a moment—she fidgets—
then turns into shadow.

Monday, May 7, 2007

The Town of Hill

Donald Hall (b. 1928)

Back of the dam, under a
flat pad

of water, church
bells ring

in the ears of lilies,
a child's swing

curls in the current
of a yard, horned

pout sleep
in a green

mailbox, and
a boy walks

from a screened
porch beneath

the man-shaped
leaves of an oak

down the street looking
at the town

of Hill that water
covered forty

years ago,
and the screen

door shuts
under dream water.

Sunday, May 6, 2007

Outsider Art

Kay Ryan (1995)

Most of it's too dreary
or too cherry red.
If it's a chair, it's
covered with things
the savior said
or should have said—
dense admonishments
in nail polish
too small to be read.
If it's a picture,
the frame is either
burnt matches glued together
or a regular frame painted over
to extend the picture. There never
seems to be a surface equal
to the needs of these people.
Their purpose wraps
around the backs of things
and under arms;
they gouge and hatch
and glue on charms
till likable materials—
apple crates and canning funnels—
lose their rural ease. We are not
pleased the way we thought
we would be pleased.

Saturday, May 5, 2007

One Art

Elizabeth Bishop (1976)

The art of losing isn't hard to master;
so many things seem filled with the intent
to be lost that their loss is no disaster.

Lose something every day. Accept the fluster
of lost door keys, the hour badly spent.
The art of losing isn't hard to master.

Then practice losing farther, losing faster:
places, and names, and where it was you meant
to travel. None of these will bring disaster.

I lost my mother's watch. And look! my last, or
next-to-last, of three loved houses went.
The art of losing isn't hard to master.

I lost two cities, lovely ones. And, vaster,
some realms I owned, two rivers, a continent.
I miss them, but it wasn't a disaster.

—Even losing you (the joking voice, a gesture
I love) I shan't have lied. It's evident
the art of losing's not hard to master
though it may look like (Write it!) like disaster.

Friday, May 4, 2007

The Cove

Dick Allen (1998)

Something was out there on the lake, just barely
visible in the dark.
I knelt and stared, trying to make it out,
trying to mark

its position relative to mine,
and the picturesque willow, the moon-slivered diving board
on the opposite shore. I listened hard
but heard

no sound from it, although I cupped one ear
as I knelt in the cove,
wondering how far I should take this, if I should seek
someone to row out there with me. Yet it didn't move

or grow darker or lighter. Most shapes,
you know what they are:
a rock-garden serpent, a house in the mist, a man's head,
an evening star,

but not this one. Whatever was out there kept changing
from large to small.
The mass of a wooden coffin surfaced,
then the head of an owl,

a tree limb, a window, a veil—
I couldn't resolve it. I ran one hand through my hair
as I stood up, shrugging. I had just turned 50
and whatever it was that might be floating there

I didn't want it to be. Too much before
that came unbidden into my life
I'd let take me over. I knelt again and stared again.
Something was out there just beyond the cove.

Thursday, May 3, 2007

Passing Remark

William Stafford (1966)

In scenery I like flat country.
In life I don't like much to happen.

In personalities I like mild colorless people.
And in colors I prefer gray and brown.

My wife, a vivid girl from the mountains,
says, "Then why did you choose me?"

Mildly I lower my brown eyes—
there are so many things admirable people
    do not understand.

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

Poem (Lana Turner Has Collapsed!)

Frank O'Hara (1952)

Lana Turner has collapsed!
I was trotting along and suddenly
it started raining and snowing
and you said it was hailing
but hailing hits you on the head
hard so it was really snowing and
raining and I was in such a hurry
to meet you but the traffic
was exactly like the sky
and suddenly I see a headline
there is no snow in Hollywood
there is no rain in California
I have been to lots of parties
and acted perfectly disgraceful
but I never actually collapsed
oh Lana Turner we love you get up

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Introduction of the Shopping Cart

Gerald Costanzo (b. 1945)

There was a man
who collected facts.

After work he rode twenty stories,
let himself in
to cartons filled with index cards
and his crucial lists.

Facts reveal useful lives.
He got things right.

The shopping cart invented
by Sylvan Goldman,
Oklahoma City, 1937.

When the man passed on
his relatives came.

P.T. Barnum had four daughters.

They searched through his cartons
for ten dollar bills.

The sky, which on cloudless
days appears to be azure,
has no true color.

He wasn't eccentric.
When they found nothing,
they threw everything

His final fact:
you live and you die.

The shopping cart. P.T. Barnum.

The sky.